September 11, 2019

RHONDA HAAG/Monroe County
The intersection of Blackwater Lane and Sexton Way in the Stillwright Point neighborhood in Key Largo experiences exceptionally high waters during king tide events and will be studied in the county's roads elevation plan.

RHONDA HAAG/Monroe County The intersection of Blackwater Lane and Sexton Way in the Stillwright Point neighborhood in Key Largo experiences exceptionally high waters during king tide events and will be studied in the county's roads elevation plan.

KEY LARGO — Knee-high saltwater rolled into a handful of bayside neighborhoods last week. King tide flooding compounded by a slow-approaching Hurricane Dorian off the coast of Florida created a major headache for some homeowners along Blackwater Sound.

At least three streets in the Stillwright Point neighborhood at mile marker 105 were submerged, according to resident Emilie Caldwell Stewart.

THERESA JAVA/Free Press
Tidal waters lap up against neighborhood lawns on Shaw Drive near mile marker 103, bayside.

“We had four days of it being impossible to get down North Blackwater Lane,” she said last Friday of the road that provides the neighborhood access to U.S. 1. “We are now on day 5, but it looks like the water has retreated to be less than two feet today.”

Cars were able to drive down Blackwater Lane with at least two wheels not submerged, according to Stewart.

She, like many other homeowners in the neighborhood, purchased an SUV to contend with the rising tidal floods that have become a recurring problem during the past few years.

“When the water is this high, no one can leave their house. No one wants to ruin their cars,” Stewart said. She said she worries what the saltwater intrusion has done to the neighborhood’s infrastructure.

This flooding problem isn’t new.

The Twin Lakes neighborhood at mile marker 103, which has been chosen for a county road-raising pilot project, has also been subject to flooding for the last few years. The engineering phase of the project is nearly complete.

One homeowner created a Facebook page in 2015, Key Largo Community Swamp, to document the neighborhood going underwater.

Homeowner Kim Weatherly said the roads in her neighborhood began to flood on Sunday, Sept. 1, and were still flooded Saturday, Sept. 7.

“The road is flooded with saltwater for about 1 mile from the beginning of Shaw Drive continuing on to Crane Street and on to Adams Drive from beginning to end right now,” she wrote in an email to the Free Press. “Last time it did this it lasted for 30 days. We have large minnows swimming down Adams Drive and tadpoles everywhere. … We are taking our boats to work so we don’t have to drive our cars through the 7-inch-deep saltwater. Luckily we have boats. “

Monroe County announced last week plans to analyze county-maintained roadways that may be vulnerable to flood in the future.

The county will look at more than 300 miles of roadway, about the same distance from Islamorada to Orlando. The plan will also include information for impacted communities about the future levels of flooding and options for how to fund needed adaptation projects, according to Rhonda Haag, Monroe County director of sustainability.

“Nuisance flooding this time of year is not out of the ordinary,” she said. “The flooding on the bayside is more than likely a combination of the fall king tides and Hurricane Dorian winds pushing in the water from Florida Bay.”

Jonathan Rizzo, National Weather Service Key West meteorologist, agreed that Dorian made the floods worse.

“The flooding observed in upper Key Largo was compounded by Dorian,” he said. “However, every couple weeks during a full or new moon, we will be monitoring weather induced impacts that can drive the tide higher than the king tide would normally produce.”

High tides are expected to run up to two feet above the predicted tides across the Upper Keys.

Also the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the county have also scheduled two informal public meetings for the Florida Keys Coastal Storm Risk Management Feasibility Study.

The first meeting is from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 11, at the Murray E. Nelson Government and Cultural Center, 102050 Overseas Highway in Key Largo.

The next meeting is scheduled from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 12, at the Harvey Government Center, 1200 Truman Avenue in Key West.

tjava@keysnews.com